Washington D.C., June 21, 2006 - Congressman Mike Bilirakis (R-FL), Vice-Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, today delivered a statement on the House floor in support of H.R. 5573, the Health Centers Renewal Act of 2006, which reauthorizes the federal health centers program through 2011. Bilirakis is an original sponsor of the bill with Health Subcommittee Chairman Deal and Representative Gene Green. The House of Representatives approved H.R. 5573 by a vote of 424 to 3.
H.R. 5573 would authorize $1.93 billion in funding in Fiscal Year 2007, thereby increasing funding next year to the level the President has requested, or approximately $181 million more than last year.
The following is the text of Congressman Bilirakis’ remarks:
I rise today in support of H.R. 5573, the Health Centers Renewal Act, legislation which I have cosponsored with Health Subcommittee Chairman Deal and our colleague from Texas, Mr. Green.
I have long championed community health centers because they have been a model for delivering primary and preventative care efficiently and effectively for more than four decades. They serve more than 16 million Americans, many of whom are uninsured or underinsured, in areas where people most need such services. They make their services available to all residents of the communities in which they are located, without regard to their ability to pay.
One of the reasons community health centers have successfully provided care to so many through the years is that the individual centers are governed by a community board, a majority of whose members are patients of the health center itself. I think this feature makes health centers more responsive to the needs of the communities they serve than they otherwise might be.
Health centers have proven that health care need not be complicated or expensive to work well. The health centers program started more than forty years ago with the idea that patients should run the show, a remarkably simple formula for success. This patient democracy, if you will, shapes the delivery of health care to the community and determines the range of affordable services the health center will provide.
And those services are certainly needed. Despite our best efforts, there are still far too many Americans who lack health insurance, and for whom community health centers are their only source of care. These vulnerable individuals need the community health centers program to remain strong and vibrant as they work toward greater health security for themselves and their families. The authorization for this valuable program expires this year, however.
I have introduced legislation with our colleague from Texas, Mr. Green, to reauthorize the federal health centers program through 2011. Our bill would authorize $1.93 billion in funding in Fiscal Year 2007, thereby increasing funding next year to the level the President has requested, or approximately $181 million more than last year.
Although we introduced the bill only a few weeks ago, I am pleased that it already has 233 bipartisan cosponsors – more than half the House – including almost every member of the Energy and Commerce Committee. I believe these numbers are a testament to the broad and bipartisan support for reauthorizing the federal health centers program this year, while preserving the key elements of its authorizing statute, Section 330 of the Public Health Service Act.
The bill we are considering today is identical to the Bilirakis-Green bill, except that it includes specific authorization levels for Fiscal Years 2008 through 2011, which would bring health center funding to $2.04 billion by Fiscal Year 2011 and allow for the continued expansion of health centers in needed areas around the country. I want to thank our full Committee Chairman, Mr. Barton, and our Subcommittee Chairman, Mr. Deal, for acting expeditiously on reauthorizing this important program.
Although I am pleased that the bill before us today maintains the fundamental structure of the federal health centers program, I do support making what I believe are common-sense legislative changes to enhance the ability of community health centers to provide care to those who need it.
I look forward in the coming weeks to examining the merits of several of the proposals which my Committee colleagues have put forth that I believe would do just that. I stand ready to advance these initiatives to expand access to the critical care that many of our constituents receive at community health centers.
I am especially supportive of H.R. 1313, legislation our colleague from Pennsylvania, Mr. Murphy, has introduced which would extend liability protection to volunteer physicians at community health centers. I believe that this change, which the National Association of Community Health Centers fully supports, will encourage doctors and other medical professionals to volunteer their time and talent at health centers in underserved areas which are facing workforce shortages.
I believe that it is imperative that we move forward on Mr. Murphy’s legislation as soon as possible. There currently is a serious shortage of health care providers in areas where community health centers are located. In addition, there will be an increasing demand for physicians to serve the millions of new patients that will be seeking care as centers come online as part of President Bush’s initiative to put new community health centers in medically underserved areas around the country.
As many of us know, however, the high cost of medical liability insurance can be prohibitive, especially for physicians who are going above and beyond, so to speak, by volunteering at community health centers. I believe that these special people deserve the same protections under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) as do paid health center physicians.
The bill that Mr. Murphy has introduced, which I have cosponsored, would do that by extending medical liability protections under the FTCA to volunteer physicians at community health centers. I believe this common-sense proposal would encourage more qualified health care providers to volunteer their much needed services at health centers that desperately need their expertise. Although I would have preferred to also be considering this legislation here today, I am nonetheless fully supportive of the Health Centers Renewal Act and urge its passage.
Mr. Speaker, community health centers have deservedly earned bipartisan support in Congress because of their long and well-documented record of success. The Health Centers Renewal Act will help them continue their mission well into the future, especially in the most needed areas around the country. I urge all our colleagues to both support and invest in proven health care solutions by voting for H.R. 5573. The health and well-being of our constituents depends on it.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
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